Lions Turkey Day Funds Community Causes

Annual tradition features shooting contests to win Thanksgiving birds

An estimated 2,000 people attended the 52nd Annual Lions Club Turkey Day on Saturday in downtown Cody. (Wyoming Truth photo by Ruffin Prevost)

By Ruffin Prevost

Special to the Wyoming Truth

CODY, Wyo. — In a unique fall tradition that might seem out of place almost anywhere else, droves of residents and visitors converged on a parking lot in downtown Cody on Saturday to throw darts, toss footballs and shoot rifles in an effort to take home a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving.

The 52nd Annual Lions Turkey Day drew an estimated 2,000 people of all ages to the civic group’s largest fundraiser, which has been a mainstay of the local holiday season since the Nixon administration.

“The Lions Club motto is ‘We Serve,’ and that’s what this day is all about,” said Craig Wilbur, a past president of the club who was selling raffle tickets for a drawing with a grand prize of a new Chevy Silverado 1500 pickup valued at over $40,000.

Torin Cortez, 12, aims a .22 caliber rifle at a thin strand of twine in an attempt to win a turkey. (Wyoming Truth photo by Ruffin Prevost)

The club’s first raffle featured a grand prize of a new Plymouth Volaré, valued at $2,200, Wilbur said. Since then, Turkey Day has grown into an nationally recognized event. In 2010, the Cody City Council declared the Saturday before Thanksgiving as the town’s official Cody Lions Club Holiday.

But for most who stopped by the six-hour event, the day was all about fun. Some club members served up burgers, brats, kettle corn and hot chocolate. Others supervised games of chance and skill that brought the prospect of winning a turkey, including throwing darts at balloons, tossing a football through a target or spinning a giant wheel of fortune.

The signature events, though, involved shooting .22 caliber rifles in true tests of marksmanship against other shooters—and against an elusive strand of twine that seemed all but impossible to hit.

That didn’t stop Torin Cortez, 12, from trying. In fact, Cortez returned several times to the “turkey-on-a-string” game, where a frozen turkey is suspended from a thin strand, and shooters aim to snap the cord, winning bragging rights and a sumptuous bird.

It was Cortez’s first time shooting live ammunition in a real rifle, but his form looked practiced—even polished.

The 52nd Annual Lions Turkey Day in Cody features games of chance and skill, with turkeys and Cornish game hens awarded as prizes. (Wyoming Truth photo by Ruffin Prevost)

“I’ve been practicing with my BB gun,” he said with a wide grin before reloading and taking aim again.

Wilbur said the firing lines were staffed by club members who were experienced range officers, and rifles were lashed to the shooting benches to constrain their line of fire toward backstops.

Club members spend the day before the event blocking off the shooting areas with hay bales and custom-built targets that capture any stray rounds, he said, and there has never been an accident in the event’s history.

Cortez figured he would eventually try his hand at throwing darts or footballs, but was first determined to separate a turkey from its string.

Participants pay a small fee for a turn at each game, but most people who took a chance eventually left with a turkey, or the lesser prize of a Cornish game hen. Wilbur said the club typically gives away approximately 1,200 of each bird.

Brandi Gideon and her two sons, Ryder and Eli, joined a long line of people waiting to toss footballs at a giant cornhole-style target, the game that saw perhaps the highest percentage of winners. Players get three footballs, with kids required to send one through the target to win a hen, or two for a turkey. Adults need to land two for a hen or all three for a turkey.

Ryder Gideon tosses a football Saturday in one of the games of skill and chance offered during the Lions Turkey Day event. (Wyoming Truth photo by Ruffin Prevost) 

Established in 1922, the Cody Lions Club uses Turkey Day proceeds to finance a diverse collection of local causes.

“All the funds stay right here in the community,” Wilbur said.

The club, the largest Lions chapter west of the Mississippi River, routinely funds a range of local charitable initiatives, including eyeglasses and vision care for those in need, the Bright Futures mentoring program, the Children’s Resource Center, the Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic, an annual Easter egg hunt, youth baseball programs, an Arbor Day seedling giveaway and an array of upgrades and beautification efforts for local parks.

Over 125 members volunteer each November to make Turkey Day a success, often in snow or sub-zero temperatures. Those efforts paid off again this year, with hundreds of participants going home with a turkey, some with several birds.

After each of her sons won a turkey, Gideon laughed and said she had “no idea” what she would do with the abundance of prize poultry. “We’ll think of something.”

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